Rebuilding the European social model

Last Wednesday 19 October, I had the opportunity to take part in a closed expert seminar on social Europe, organised by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS).

The focus was on the so-called European social model, especially in the context of the ongoing debate on the European Pillar of Social Rights and the event gathered a varied group of people – politicians, researchers, academics, national and European trade unionists and representatives of civil society – to sit together around the table and share their own views, analyses and proposals to address current negative trends.The starting point was a presentation by Professor James Wickam (author of “Unequal Europe, social divisions and social cohesion in an old continent”) which described welfare systems as the factor that distinguishes Europe in the world.

When so doing, he stressed that these are national in their essence and that there is no European social model as such. On the contrary, he argued that the EU integration process has to some extent undermined welfare, promoting deregulation and global competition without compensating citizens for social and economic losses deriving from this process.

This process of negative integration (based on the removal of barriers to market competition) is simply not sustainable in the long term without an accompanying positive one (based on some forms of regulation and redistribution policies).

Whether one agrees or not agree with this view, it is a fact that the EU is increasingly perceived as an engine that destroys social rights and national welfare states, and benefits only a small educated and affluent elite able to grasp the benefits of free movement and globalisation.

To varying extents, through welfare systems Member States have provided their citizens with two important immaterial ‘goods’ in the second half of the 20th century: fairness and control.

With regards to fairness, I mean the certainty of being part of a just society that ensures social protection, delivers some common goods and makes sure that everybody contributes with their fair share to the system.

Concerning control, I mean the security of having control over one’s own life and future.

This is not the case anymore. Precariousness and increasing inequalities are spreading on our continent and are among the main causes behind this growing sense of instability, resentment and nostalgie that is fueling and revamping nationalism. And I believe it is no coincidence that justice and security are recurrent concepts in the propaganda – if not even in the official names – of many of the emerging nationalistic and extremist parties.

If we want this process to end and avoid EU disintegration, we should stop blaming citizens and a disoriented electorate for their changing political preferences and instead engage with them, trying to give a concrete answer to their real problems.

The EU could do much more to promote social justice and security and help European citizens to regain this sense of being part of a fair society.

Just and progressive taxation, income redistribution and a general rethinking of EU fiscal rules to safeguard investment in social policies and services could support the former; promoting adequate minimum wages and minimum income schemes in the EU would be an effective way to ensure the latter.

At Social Platform, we believe this is the only way forward for ethical, political, social and economic reasons and we are doing our best to promote and facilitate the necessary paradigm shift.